Je Suis Desole – Our Terrible Week

Je Suis Desole – Our Terrible Week January 8, 2015

2015 has gotten off to an absolutely terrible start. Opportunities for outrage and despair seem numerous even for those us not trying to find evidence of End Times. People are rightfully angry not just at the terrible things that have happened but at the thin coverage of real problems. Hopefully these current and terrible events will highlight longer term issues that to which we should not be numb. Hopefully, in the media firestorm of NFL football playoffs followed by the first college football playoff championships, we can enjoy ourselves but not forget what is really important.

12 killed in Islamic terror attacks in France, 1 in Turkey, 37 in Yemen, 23 in Iraq. 2 killed in unexplained shooting at Ft Bliss VA hospital. Trans teen commits suicide. ESPN anchor dies of cancer.  162 on AirAsia flight. NAACP bombing. All within a week or so.

We should abhor censorship just as passionately as we oppose violence

The bombings at Charlie Hebdo are one main issue with the rallying cry Je Suis Charlie. The satirical magazines have posted pictures of Muhammad (Noble Qu’ran spelling). Many Muslims have called for violent opposition and some Muslims have followed through, in particular with a running gun rampage at Charlie Hebdo that killed 12. The longer-term issues, in my opinion, or continuing imperialism of the west in the Middle East that fosters violence, disenfranchises local people, and fosters recruiting to extremist causes. The United Nations rightfully rejected ‘blasphemy laws’ that protect ideas in favor of the rights of individuals to free expression. No one has the right not to be offended. But many countries still have blasphemy laws, with punishments from fines to civil damages to death. The UN should move to declare those in prosecuted for blasphemy to be political prisoners of a theocratic state.

This religious violence around the world was also felt when a car bomb in Yemen killed 37 and suicide attacks in Iraq killed 23. A female (if that matters) suicide bomber killed an officer and wounded another in Turkey. It is easy to dehumanize Muslims and foreigners but we must resist that urge. They seek peace and freedom, and not in the form of American bombs or western condescension.

It’s unclear what the reason was for a recent shooting at a Ft Bliss VA clinic. This may be political violence against Trans rejection by the active duty military (also see below) or to the acceptance of gays by the military. This may be a mental health failure like a Newtown or Navy Yard. It may be a problem of irresponsible access to guns. It may be workplace dispute or a random act of violence. It’s uncertain but there are victims and we should seek context to avoid such violence in the future.

desoleAnd then there’s Leelah, the young trans woman who was bullied to suicide by her own parents. NPR provided a long report on the suffering of Trans kids. But I find more insightful and detestable is the reaction of her own mother:

“We don’t support that, religiously,” Alcorn’s mother told CNN on Wednesday, her voice breaking. “But we told him that we loved him unconditionally. We loved him no matter what. I loved my son. People need to know that I loved him. He was a good kid, a good boy.”

Anti-Gay and in this case Anti-Trans Christians (they don’t know the difference) have poisoned Leelah Alcorn’s mother so thoroughly she can’t even distinguish between love and hate. That is what led to her death.

If you can’t understand the pleadings of a young child, remember Muhammad Ali who beat down Ernie Terrell in 1967 while chanting “What’s my name!?!”. (In a bit of good news, Ali was released from the hospital this week after a serious illness.) Ali had changed his name from Cassius Clay in honor of his conversion into the Nation of Islam (he later transitioned to traditional Sunni Islam). Terrell refused to use Ali’s new name. Ali had a boxing match with Terrell and could express, in violent fashion, his anger at Terrell’s disrespect. Leelah and other trans persons do not have that luxury, and to be fair they should not resort to violence. But the reality is trans (and gay) teens resort to violence against themselves far too often. Don’t tolerate anti-trans speech or even attitudes at work or at home. You may not be able to change their minds right away or come to a resolution on the spot, but call out bigotry where you see it. Be just as quick to oppose anti-trans attitudes as you would racist attitudes.

And if you think racism is dead, a small NAACP headquarters south of Denver was bombed. Let’s not kid ourselves. This is not a post-racial America. We have a black President. We have CEOs and graduates and have even moved beyond most quota systems in favor of more inspired measures to protect equality. But portions of the Equal Rights Act were thrown out just last year, and they shouldn’t have been because there are lots of racists still waiving Confederate flags and trying to suppress minority votes. We can laugh at racial humor by Chris Rock and Carlos Mencia and Key & Peele. But hopefully a bombing at the NAACP can remind us that racism in America is still a serious topic.

Stuart Scott was a beloved ESPN anchor and inventor, at least according to me, of the “exploding fist bump”. He died at 49 from cancer. 162 people died when an AirAsia flight crashed prior to the New Year. Neither of these is a problem bigotry or politics like the others. It may seem there’s less to be done, but consideration of the victim and their families is important. For mostly nameless victims of the AirAsia flight and for a TV personality like Stuart Scott, remembering them improves our own humanity.

As a humanist, I’m concerned with ethics and legacy, among other things. Our ethics are stronger when we nurture our empathy for other people and our respect for lives, even if it’s only one or even 100 out of billions alive today. We are more invested and happy in life when we know we have a legacy that impacts others. Remembering those who have been lost to bigotry or politics or misfortune or our lack of scientific progress is a small way to recommit to being better as a species. After this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week, let’s all in our own ways try to pull something meaningful from the memories of those whom we have lost.

The original version incorrectly referred to Charlie Hedbo rather than Hebdo. THA apologizes for the error.

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